They say that dogs are man’s best friend, but a large number of people would strongly disagree. Many people have a slight aversion to dogs, especially in childhood, but for those suffering from Cynophobia, dogs are to be avoided at all costs.
Derived from the ancient Greek words Kýon and Phobos, meaning dog and fear, Cynophobia is a relatively common phobia. While not as frequently reported as phobias of spiders and snakes, a fear of dogs is made all the worse by the sheer prevalence of dogs in everyday life.
Wherever you are in the world, it’s likely that a dog is never far away, causing extreme cases of Cynophobia to have a devastating effect on the sufferer. Many sufferers feel embarrassed by their fear, and it is believed that fewer than 30% ever seek treatment. Like many other phobias however, it is curable.
CAUSES OF CYNOPHOBIA
Like many specific phobias, it’s worth exploring evolutionary theories first and foremost. In the case of Cynophobia, psychologists look to survival instincts developed over thousands of years, when wolves posed a threat to tribal life. They believe that the fear of dogs is simply an ancient instinct picked up from our forefathers.
While this can perhaps explain why some people only fear large, ferocious dogs, it doesn’t explain why others have an extreme reaction to every type of dog. A more likely cause of Cynophobia is perhaps more personal. Most sufferers develop their fear of dogs at a young age, when they are more impressionable.
There are three main causes, personal encounters, witnessed encounters, and learned behaviour. A child who has experienced a direct negative experience, such as being bitten may understandably develop a fear of dogs. Similarly, if they saw a dog attacking someone, their fear of dogs may increase.
While these causes require exposure to dogs, a sufferer who has learned to fear dogs may never have interacted with one. A parent who has always acted wary around dogs, and forbidden contact, can quickly instill a strong fear of dogs in their child. Likewise, news reports and stories depicting dogs as creatures to fear can also be a major cause of Cynophobia.
People who were rarely ever in contact with dogs while growing up, are far more likely to develop a phobia. This is especially true if there was an incident, after which dogs were avoided.
SYMPTOMS OF CYNOPHOBIA
Many people have a slight fear of dogs, especially strays, but for Cynophobics it’s far worse.
- Extreme fear even if just thinking about dogs.
- Anxiety attacks when exposed to dogs resulting in hot or cold flushes, clammy hands, dizziness, nausea, feelings of powerlessness.
- Avoiding any situation in which an encounter with a dog may occur. The anticipation of encountering a dog can prevent you from doing things, and cause panic attacks days in advance if it seems impossible to avoid the situation.
If your fear of dogs is interfering with day to day life, it’s likely you’re suffering from Cynophobia. In this case, treatment should be quickly sought.
From exposure therapy with a professional, to audio therapies carried out in the comfort of your own home, there are numerous ways to overcome your fear of dogs. Systematic Desensitization Therapy is a popular choice, whereby patients learn breathing exercises to reduce anxiety. This is carried out in a controlled environment, as they imagine being in the same room as a dog.
Exposure (in-vivo) Therapy offers a more direct approach, with patients gradually becoming more exposed, first to pictures of a dog, and finally a real dog, until they are able to handle the situation. This kind of therapy can also be carried out at home, with a trusted friend and their dog.
While the previous treatments may involve some level of anxiety and mental strain, they do provide results. Alternative methods that don’t involve seeing or imagining a dog include the various types of Audio Therapy. From hypnosis to NLP exercises, these can be carried out with a professional, or at home with audio files downloaded onto your computer. These methods involve changing your way of thinking, which can have lasting results and may help with other fears or issues.
In today’s digital world, there are even apps or audio therapy sessions such as subliminals you can download to help rid you of your phobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF DOGS
A phobia of dogs can be extremely detrimental to your social and working life. By overcoming Cynophobia, it will feel as if the chains have been lifted, and the doors of opportunity thrown wide open.
No more will you have to avoid social occasions with friends and family who own dogs. No more will you fear walking down the street. Instead, you’ll be able to walk through any park, forest or neighbourhood, with confidence and pride. You never know, perhaps you’ll even find your own four-legged friend.